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Martyrdom - Two Literary Case Studies

             A Historical and Personal Analysis of the Martyr.
             Emotionally charged rhetoric has been used effectively over the centuries to evoke within us powerful sentiments about right and wrong, good and evil. In the religious world, of course, one term employed in this manner is martyr. The word martyr has a tremendous impact when used in the correct context. It brings to mind images of heroic men and women being slaughtered for what they believe in. Protestants, especially, tend to think of Acts and Monuments-based scenarios in which a Christian is persecuted unto death for his staunch faith in the redemption of Jesus Christ. Yet, in the modern sense, the concept of martyrdom has been applied to individuals and ideas completely outside the context of religion. This paper, then, will be an exploration of martyrdom in unconventional circumstances, an attempt to conclude whether loose construction of the term is, in fact, acceptable. .
             I wish first to investigate whether one can be "martyred- without being murdered. Without dying at all, in fact. Shusaku Endo's Silence provides an excellent study of such a situation. Silence deals primarily with the plight of Rodrigues, a Catholic priest who travels to Japan to participate in covert missionary activities. Japan, during the 17th century, is a closed country to most foreigners, especially missionaries. Rodrigues journeys to the country with a companion and eventually discovers that there are a fair amount of Christian peasants "although somewhat misguided in their faith, occasionally. When persecution descends upon the population, it becomes clear that the Japanese officials intend to discover the whereabouts of the missionary-invaders by torturing the peasants. They require the missionaries to apostasize in order to free the people of their suffering. Rodrigues is torn: the Lord seems to be silent, previous missionaries have recanted, and the peasants are made to suffer not for God, it would appear, but for him.

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